ITHACA UNDERGROUND MARKS an important milestone this week: booker Bubba Crumrine has helmed the DIY music promotion collective for three years. And while one generally associates punk and hardcore music scenes with a healthy anarchist streak, Crumrine has served as both the in-house visionary and director of operations. Thanks to his tireless effort, what was a small loosely knit group has become a Tompkins County juggernaut: not only for fostering an independent music scene but known far and wide as a tour-friendly community. The Ithaca Post spoke with the busy Bubba by email this week.
Q: Congratulations on your third year! You’ve consistently brought music from the margins in front of crowds eager to hear something new. How are things looking for IU?
Bubba Crumrine: Thanks! Everything is looking fantastic. I have several shows in the works that would bring some great bands to Ithaca for the first time this fall, the return of fan-favorites Cobra Skulls in October, and the return of a handful of other Ithaca-loving acts like Daniel Francis Doyle, Zorch, and Night Owls. There’s a crop of new bands stirring with both young and more veteran members of the music community, the next Big Day In is in the works, and of course there’s the big free event on Saturday. Things are looking up and I’ve got plans to keep IU moving forward.
Q: It’s been three years since you took over booking for the Ithaca Underground, and it has grown steadily to showcase more bands and expose folks of all ages to music they wouldn’t hear otherwise. Have you accomplished what you’ve wanted to over the years?
Crumrine: Absolutely. Involving people who get excited about these types of bands as I do really meant a lot. I was lucky to have such an involved group of people of all ages get behind what I was aiming to do with IU early on, It made the difference for sure. I remember the total joy of the first show where we had over a dozen, then two-dozen people at a show I presented. Things sure have come a long way since then. When I first started booking, I made a lofty top ten list. Of the bands that were on that list and are still active, if memory serves, only two remain that I’ve yet to bring – both of which might happen later this year. Success? Again, absolutely.
Q: You’ve had some great partners in venues: the Shop, CSMA, the Haunt and now the Greenstar Annex. Would you talk about how all-ages spaces are important to successful underground shows?
Crumrine: In my opinion, young people are incredibly important to a sustainable underground music community. Having a diverse group of creative local bands to open and support shows is just as important as bringing in the right national act. Historically with IU its been the teens and early 20’s crowd which have consistently starting bands that fit with the types of shows we book. Having a place where they can explore a wide variety of music and meet peers with similar interests early on has been crucial to the creation of many of the bands we work with. Plus, the attendees at most of our shows are usually at least half, sometimes closer to 3/4, under 21 – with out the ability for people of any age, I likely would not have been able to take IU to the level it is now. These are the people who are interested in seeing these bands, we have to provide them with the opportunity to do so.
In addition to The Space @ GreenStar, CSMA, and The Haunt whom have been our mainstays this year, Waffle Frolic and Culture Shock have also been doing all ages shows with a lot of the bands we work with locally. Its great to see so many organizations getting on board over the last few years.
Q: Almost 150 shows and 250 bands in three years. Do you remember them all? Are there highlights or any that stand out?
Crumrine: Wow, there are so many to pick from… each one was special in its own right. The Red Scare Tour of ‘09 with Cobra Skulls, The Menzingers, and The Sidekicks always stands out because it was one of the largest tours I’d booked so far and we had to change venues on just two days notice. There was a lot of expectation around the show and everyone pulled together to help flyer, tell their friends, and update people of the time and space change. In the end it was still one of our best attended shows at the time.
All of the Big Day In events have been a blast… the Defiance Ohio/Nana Grizol show this summer was really memorable because of how many people turned out to CSMA on a weeknight and there was such a positive vibe all night from the bands and the attendees. The first IU all ages Saturday show at the Haunt at the very start of ‘09 with Sakes Alive!!, The Rolemodels, The Motivators, and The Debunks will always stick with me because it really opened my eyes to how many people wanted what we were doing and what the potential for IU was.
So many others - the waltz pit at Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, The Menzingers show at The Haunt where the whole crowd got on stage, getting to meet Trevor Dunn when I booked MadLove, booking one of the last Buried Inside shows ever, Math The Band at The Shop, the 80 person circle pit at Kylesa at The Haunt – I could go on forever. This Saturday will surely stick out too as we say goodbye to one of the local bands we worked with the closest- Beach Parade. Those four guys really went above and beyond with their involvement all the time. My parents are even coming down for this one. It will be their first IU show.
Q: There’ve been some big ones too. Will you continue to book larger known national acts as well as the more relatively unheard and unknown national and regional ones?
Crumrine: Bringing a balance of larger and upstart bands has been key. Its organizations like IU that give bands that eventually become more nationally recognized a chance. We’ve had several bands come through early that have gone on to do great things. It also gives us a chance to give newer local bands a chance to open or work with regional bands we haven’t had a chance to yet because there’s less risk on our end. The big national acts are fun because I’m a fan of a lot of them plus, it’s an opportunity to get in front of people who may not have IU high on their radar, show them the quality shows we bring, and give exposure to the local acts we work with that are picking up steam. One of my future goals is to set some things in motion that will help reduce a bit of the risk on the higher profile shows.
Q: It seems that almost every member of the audience of an Ithaca Underground show starts up a band – it’s like what they used to say about the Velvets. Do you think there has been anything about booking that has fostered that DIY spirit?
Crumrine: (Laughs) there’s definitely some truth to that. If anything, that’s where I hope I’ve helped the most. When I started booking for IU, there were a handful of young local bands who got involved on a regular basis like The Rolemodels, The Motivators, and The Berettas (now Bombtree). From there, we met their friends (The Debunks, Makeshift) and got more people involved which led to getting on a broader radar across Ithaca – downtown and on campus.
Soon after, a crop of bands got involved from IC and downtown involving people who have been involved in DIY music well before I got involved and started up bands like Why The Wires, Iwo Jima Medkit, Beach Parade eventually and a slew of others. Things sort of exploded from there. I feel performing with touring musicians and bands you admire pushes people to really get creative and get better. There’s a lot more motivation to start a killer band if you’re going to opening for one of your favorite new bands vs. playing at say, a graduation party.
Q: What does the next three years hold for IU?
Crumrine: More shows with national bands IU fans have requested. More shows with bands you’ve never heard of but will never forget afterwards. More shows with bands I never dreamed we’d get to the level of having a chance to book… Also, look for new bands that next batch of new bands over the next few years. As with last year, there’s a whole crop of bands we work with that are going on hiatus, performing fewer Ithaca shows, or splitting up because of band members moving or graduating (or other reasons) like Beach Parade, Elsa & the awesomeAWESOMES, Mouth To Mouth To Mouth, DAADs, Makeshift, Crime Pays, Mill Bastards, Plasma 36, Fight A Scary Dog, and others. That’s a lot of niches to fill. Luckily, there’s already a handful of new or revamped bands showing a lot of promise like Sun Spells, Don’t Go Into The Woods, Paralysis at Dawn, Womyn Boiz, Cheerleader Death Squad, King Sized Pegasus plus bands like Hiroshima Vacation, Kaboosh!, Lux Carentes, Rye n’ Clover, Mike (A)! and my own band Brian! that we’ll continue to work with.
Q: Can we expect another three years of Crumrine-booked shows?
Crumrine: That’s always the question I ask myself. I really love booking shows for IU. It’s probably been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done so far. But, there’s a pretty intricate arrangement in my life between my job, my bands, the support I get from others, and other aspects of life outside of IU that make my level of participation possible. If any of those were to change drastically, I may have to pass the torch. But, in the meantime, I’ve got big plans so stick around!